Narnia and Tolkien, Yes. Harry Potter, No.

Reader Alexandra McKay recently posed a question.

You say that your upbringing contained both Narnia and Tolkien, but that Harry Potter was not just considered Satanic, the books themselves were even believed to harbour demons. Why is it that fundamentalists hate Harry Potter so much, but not Tolkien? Both present magic as morally neutral, usable for good or evil, and only by certain people. Is it because the wizards in Harry Potter are mortal humans, while magic in Tolkien is used only by immortal Elves and Maiar? Is it because Tolkien himself was a devout Christian, and his books were partially Christian allegory? Or is it just because Harry Potter is more popular? My Dad, a liberal Anglican (mainline Protestant) gave the last reason, saying that some fundies even believe that Narnia, a direct Christian allegory where magic is usually bad, is Satanic.

Let me put it like this: It doesn’t actually make sense.

My parents didn’t allow Harry Potter books in the house, but read both Narnia and the Lord of the Rings aloud to us. My parents didn’t let us watch Power Rangers because, demons, I guess, but were a-okay with us watching Star Wars and Star Trek. The inconsistencies went further: They had concerns about us listening to contemporary Christian music, but were totes fine with turning on some of the contemporary Christian music they’d listened to in the 1980s (in other words, Rebecca St. James was suspect, but Keith Green was revered).

That all said, I do think there are a couple things that help explain the inconsistency.

For one thing, Narnia and the Lord of the Rings were written by Christians. Harry Potter, in contrast, was not (or at least not such a luminary Christian as Lewis or Tolkien). This mattered. I could point out that there was Christian allegory in both Narnia and the Lord of the Rings (more certain in the first than the second), but there is arguably Christian allegory in Harry Potter too, so I think allegory ends up counting selectively. The point remains that a professing Christian got more leeway and was given the benefit of the doubt in a way a non-Christian or a Christian who isn’t in your face wouldn’t.

A second factor was whether or not something could be defined as classic. Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Star Trek? Classic. It also mattered when things were a positive part of my parents’ upbringing and youth. The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Keith Green? Those were things that had been formative on my parents. These things were all known quantities, and arguably in some sense classic. Harry Potter, Power Rangers, or Rebecca St. James? Not classic. Not known quantities. Not things familiar and known to my parents.

I do remember spending time justifying to myself why Lord of the Rings was okay while Harry Potter was not. In fact, a teen Bible study I was involved in covered the problems with Harry Potter one week, and because everyone there was an avid Lord of the Rings fan this was something we had to work out. We created a whole list of why Harry Potter was bad (For example, we marked Harry Potter down for Harry’s “disrespectful” attitude toward his aunt and uncle). As for LOTR, we reasoned, Gandalf might be a wizard, but he was sent to Middle Earth by the Middle Earth version of God and explicitly tasked with protecting the people of Middle Earth, and given the power to do so. So really, we reasoned, Gandalf was basically an angel, not really a witch or wizard (who, as we were taught, both worshiped and gained their power from the devil).

But enough of how I justified these things. When it comes to what my parents let us read or watch, I don’t think the inconsistencies can be fully explained. No one is fully consistent, and looking back it does indeed seem odd that my parents gave us such free range with things like the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek even as they kept us away from Harry Potter and Power Rangers because they were “demonic,” and strange that my parents let us listen to Keith Green but looked askance on Rebecca St. James.

What are your thoughts? How have you seen these sorts of apparent inconsistencies justified?

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